Friday, March 14, 2008


Among the sacrifices described in this week's Torah reading we find the following:
13. And if the entire community of Israel errs because a matter was hidden from the eyes of the congregation, and they commit one of all of all the commandments of the Lord, which may not be committed, incurring guilt; 14. When the sin which they had committed becomes known, the congregation shall bring a young bull as a sin offering. They shall bring it before the Tent of Meeting. 15. The elders of the community shall lean their hands [forcefully] upon the bull's head, before the Lord, and one shall slaughter the bull before the Lord. 16. The anointed kohen shall bring some of the bull's blood into the Tent of Meeting,
17. and the kohen shall dip his finger from the blood, and sprinkle [it] seven times before the Lord, before the dividing curtain.
18. And he shall then place some of the blood on the horns of the altar that is before the Lord in the Tent of Meeting. And then he shall pour all the blood onto the base of the altar [used] for burnt offerings, which is at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
19. And he shall separate all its fat from it and cause it to [go up in] smoke on the altar.
20. He shall do to the bull just as he did to the bull of the sin offering thus he shall do to it. Thus the kohen shall make atonement for them [the community], and they will be forgiven. 21. And he shall take the bull outside the camp and burn it, just as he burned the first bull. It is a sin offering for the congregation. (Leviticus 4:13-21)
Rashi explains that we are dealing with a case that the Sanhedrin issued an erroneous decision regarding any matter in the Torah that incurs the penalty of excision, by declaring that matter permissible, and the community acted upon their instruction. Because of this erroneous decision, a special sacrifice is brought, which is known as the par he'elem davar.

It is interesting to note that the Torah itself takes into account the possibility that the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of Israel's greatest rabbis, could make a mistake. Even the most outstanding Torah scholars are human. They are not infallible. We see also in the Talmud that the rabbis were not afraid to say that they were mistaken(Shabbat 63B, Eruvin 16B, 104A):

דברים שאמרתי לפניכם טעות הן בידי

If this is so for these men of great wisdom and piety, how much more so should the average man on the street be ready to admit his mistakes. A person should seek the truth without letting his personal honor get in the way.

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